Goose

Super Bowl Sunday
My kid and I are hanging out in the yard. Too much noise inside for a 13 month old with the game, potato chip munching, beer gulping loud people, stuff like that. First quarter, two teams, guys in green, guys in blue. I knew the name of one player. Little Joe is digging around in the dirt and finds a blade of grass to study. All of the sudden, everyone is yelling for me to get inside and check out the tube. I’m thinking, somebody got a home run but I get there just in time to catch the last thirty seconds of “Goose”.

The Concept
Goose was Pepsi’s entry into corporate America’s battle of Super Bowl ads, showcased on the world’s most watched event. It features Troy Hartman as a Road Warrior looking sky surfer racing over the Arizona desert when up flies a goose. Troy does a double take as the goose stares back, then breaks into a move. The goose accepts the challenge and imitates the move, no problem. Then troy performs another move, and another, both equally performed by the goose. They lock eyes as Troy whips a Pepsi from his utility belt and takes a drink. The goose honks because he wants some, so Troy tracks ahead and spills a stream of Pepsi into the air for the goose to drink.  They exchange another look of appreciation and respect, and then fly off, Troy into the sunset, Goose back to his flock in Pepsi formation.

The concept started at BBDO advertising in New York. Goose was originally planned to be a Mountain Dew ad. Five LA production companies bid aggressively for the campaign which included Goose, and Duet, both featured skydiving. So questions poured into our office from every angle. “Know any skysurfers?”, “Could a goose fly with them?”, “No?, what if we made a leash from fishing line or something?”, “No?”, “Have you ever filmed skysurfing?”, “Know anyone who can fall really slow?”, “Ever worked with birds?”. These were real questions.

Goose and Duet were awarded to House of Usher, a Santa Monica based production company owned by director, Kinka Usher. Perhaps you’ve seen his work in a Nissan campaign where GI Joe jumps from a table into a toy car, zooms over to Barbie’s doll house, and swipes her from Ken. Very cool ad. I didn’t feel quite worthy, but Kinka can’t fly a camera, so I had a job.
To film Goose, we planned two days of jumping at Skydive Elsinore. One day before the shoot, our entire crew of forty moved to Skydive Arizona on account of a bad weather report in Los Angeles that didn’t come true, by the way.

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The production consisted of two units. Our unit included Troy Hartman as the skysurfer, me on camera, John Lemming of Airspeed as camera assistant, Ann Heliwell of Basic Research as rigger, Kevin McGuire as rigger / assistant, and our pilot was Shawn Hill. The main unit was ground based at the DZ to film a real goos that was trained to fly in front of a fan, and to check our video assist between jumps.

In two days, we jumped 23 times for Goose. The day before, we’d jumped 12 times for Duet, a commercial where Troy and Tanya Garcia share a Mountain Dew in free fall. If you want to know how I felt, grab a bowling ball, strap it to your helmet, and jump like mad for three days. Actually, I felt pretty good. John Lemming shadowed my every move, carried the helmet to altitude, landed before us and grabbed it the moment I’d land. He also maintained the cameras, loaded film, performed gear checks, and when the pressure was on, he kept us in a positive state of mind. So if you decide to make thirty five jumps in three days with a bowling ball, call John first.

The skysurf scenes were technically demanding. A good shot wasn’t good, unless it was framed to include the goose. Troy’s moves would work only if his eyes were locked onto the position of the imaginary goose. My cameras were inspected with a fine tooth comb for the perfect film movement that was required to combine images of both Troy and the goose. Basically, our entire performance was dictated by an imaginary goose.

600x336JUMP07_RRDSky surfing jumpsuits are normally built with tight, low drag, pants and much higher drag sleeves.  The upper body drag gives a skysurfer more power to fly upward vertical while managing the board’s large surface area.  Troy’s Road Warrior outfit was the opposite; bulky leather pants and a sweater, metal and leather utility belt, welder’s goggles, and big orange work boots. And his board was built to look like a plank of metal with bolts. He managed to fly all these props effectively, and at one point, was even asked to be a bit more sloppy.   He nailed his part in every respect.

Each take started with a dirt dive. Kinka Usher called the moves required to complete the shots. Directors bring new meaning to the term “wuffo”.  They’ve never jumped and don’t understand the physics of skydiving, but they have a story to tell, and my job is to give them as much of that story as we physically can.  The discussions can be tedious, but the challenges often lead to new and creative ideas that we “skydiving experts” wouldn’t have considered. In our case, the factors were: an ever changing sun line, the movement of clouds, avoiding con trails, framing for the goose, and Troy’s interaction with the goose. Each factor alone was relatively easy to manage, but all factors combined, significantly increased the level of difficulty.

Between jumps, we’d review the video assist, and decide with the director if the shot was accomplished. When all the elements were in place, we’d move on. If not, we’d frown at each other, dirt dive, and head back up. But overall, things were going really well, so we decided to throw in a gag.  Kevin built a goose from a liter bottle of Mountain Dew, a hangar, and gaffer’s tape, then troy jumped holding the goose by its neck.  He gave it a drink, shook it around, then let it go. The gag went over like a lead balloon. “A waste of valuable air time.” was about the only comment. At the rate we were jumping, though, we figured seven or eight seconds off the dive couldn’t hurt much.

Just next to our landing area, truck loads of equipment were set up to film a goose that was trained to fly from one post to another, or fly directly into a super big fan. It was amazing to watch. As the goose took off, they’d sprint after it with a dolly mounted camera to grab a tracking shot. Then they started a huge fan and released the goose in front of it to hover in place as they filmed a variety of angles. The goose just flapped along as if it were going somewhere. Later, these shots would be blended with footage of Troy.

Close to the end of day #2, production was ready to wrap. After 21 jumps, all the technical pieces of the puzzle were complete, but Troy and I felt something was missing. How could they leave without a Tidy Bowl, Hen House Surprise, Barrel Roll, fast Fly by, and all the good stuff? So we grabbed our gear and quickly turned two jumps.   Those two extra jumps ended up being most of the commercial!  It was just fluid, natural sky surfing, and it looked great.

In two days, our job was done. Everyone was jazzed with the footage, and ground work with the goose went very well.  The goose in the finished commercial is part real and part CG. The effects and blending were done at Digital Domain the same people made the effects for Titanic.

Dozens of very talented people made magic from the various elements provided. The concept was great, The editing worked, the shots blended well, and the animation was believable. Troy and the goose looked like buddies. The end product got Pepsi #1 among Super Bowl ads, skydiving got big time exposure, and Troy and I got bragging rights.  The end result, one of my favorite commercial projects.